Permaculture has a myriad of definitions, but most simply, it is an overarching and all-encompassing design philosophy that seeks to mimic the natural patterns found in nature, which may be applied to all aspects of human activity.  It experienced a new flowering beginning in the mid-1970's through the amazing efforts of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.  The term "permanent agriculture" was first used in the 1920's, yet the true essence of permaculture is deeply imbeded in the practices of all of our ancestors.

     In the words of Bill Mollison: "Permaculture is the conscious design of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resiliance of natural ecosystems."  

     And here is another definition by a student of Mollison: "Permaculture is a wardrobe by which one may hang all human knowledge in relation to each other."

It espouses three core tenents:

  • Care of People
  • Care of the Earth
  • The Return of Surplus

Here are the 12 Principles of Permaculture Design:

  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

     Here is an excellent expansion of these priciples by David Holmgren, in which he uses a common proverb as a reminder of each principle:

     The world of permaculture is vast, and encompasses many practices.  It is the true framework from which to build sustainable and self-sufficent food systems.  Here is a free 72-hour video Permaculture Design Course - a great introduction to Permaculture by the one-of-a-kind character and outspoken Permaculture bulwark, Bill Mollinson:

"Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple." - Bill Mollison